Fear of Public Speaking

A. Fear of Public Speaking In General.

The fear of public speaking (glossophobia) is the second most common fear in adults, according to a 2001 Gallup™ poll.  Forty percent of people said that they have this fear, with the split between men (37%) and women (44%) being about the same.  It is more common in younger people than in the over 60 crowds.  And about 5% – 9% have a severe enough fear level that it is classified as a social anxiety disorder. 

The causes of this fear are complex and theoretical.  Unlike other worries, the fear of public speaking is not based on a perceived threat of death (height, spiders, snakes, flying, hospitals, germs, fire, lightning, drowning, etc.).  Tangible things or creatures are unlikely to trigger it.  Instead, this one is created by thoughts.  But, if you think about it, all fears are nothing more than thoughts.  The fear of spiders is not the existence of the spider but the idea of what the spider might do. 

Most other common fears have perceived physical consequences, i.e., you could die, get sick, or become injured.  The results of social anxieties, such as public speaking, are entirely psychological.  This makes the recovery steps slightly different and involves more hands-on exercises.  This increases the resistance to practice sessions. 

The following is a list of the most commonly associated consequences that stem from the fear of public speaking:

  • Embarrassment
  • Ridicule
  • Reduced Self-Esteem
  • Failure  

These emotional outcomes are discussed below, along with a potential stress reduction strategy. 

B. Fear of Public Speaking and Embarrassment.

This is a feeling of discomfort, disdain, and awkwardness in sufficient intensity to increase heart rate and blood pressure. Other physical manifestations include blushing, shaking, freezing, and a quivering voice. 

Despite these physiological responses, learning that embarrassment is a good thing and has the potential to reduce stress.   For example, take the picture to the left.  Do you think less of that girl because she was embarrassed, or are you endeared to her BECAUSE of her embarrassment?

The Read More link below discusses many other positive results of being embarrassed.

The following are some positive attributes of the fear of being embarrassed: 

  1. Embarrassment creates trust in your audience.  Studies have found that embarrassment evolved as a defense against being devalued by others.
  2. Embarrassment creates sympathy from your audience.  This means you have their attention, and they will listen.  Motivational speakers identify the audience’s attention and willingness to listen as the two most essential elements in a good speech.  One blush or a slightly nervous voice is like hitting a triple in baseball. 
  3. Being embarrassed is normal.  Psychopaths and sociopaths often lack emotions like shame, guilt, and embarrassment. 

C. Having Impairments/Unusual Physical Characteristics.

  People who stutter are often afraid to speak because of the impediment.   WRONG.  If you stutter, you should stutter louder and with sufficient volume that everyone can hear.  Use it as a badge of courage.  It announces:

I have conquered a great impediment!  What have you done?”

A law school professor said: “most people in the jury box do not want to be there.  They will tune everyone out most of the time.”  You get their attention with out-of-the-ordinary things. 

Here is a list of a few benefits of an impairment:

  • A person with a stutter is something out-of-the-ordinary.  
  • A witness, who is a soft talker, will be heard and admired for his courage when you put a microphone in front of his whispering voice.
  • An extremely short witness will be noticed when they walk into the room. Doing something unexpected like the person with a loud booming voice would be the icing on the cake. 
  • A person 8 feet tall will always be noticed.

The takeaway is that if you are different, you have an advantage. 

FlauntUSE IT




  • If you are smart, do not dumb down.
  • If you are attractive, do not tarnish what nature has done.
  • If you are tall, do not slouch. 
  • If you are very short, do not wear lifts.
  • If you are unsteady on your feet, use a cane.
  • A big nose is a sign of royalty. (European)
  • Big Ears are a sign of vitality and courage (Chinese)
  • Big Eyes mean beauty, warmth, and passion. (All cultures)

D. Stop worrying about what other people think.

You have no clue what other people think, and your assumptions will almost always be wrong. 

For example, try and recall when you were in the audience and someone made a mistake.  Did you think less of them?  Of course not.  

Here is a training method to combat this problem.  At home, write down your most negative thoughts associated with public speaking. 

Next to each negative thought, write down an advantage from that thought in less than eight words, assuming it to be true. 

If you cannot think of any, a sample list is outlined in the Read More link below. 

  1. You’re stupid 
  • Albert Einstein was called stupid.
  • Henry Ford had an 8th-grade education.
  • Steve Jobs never finished college.
  • Zuckerberg dropped out of college after two years.
  • Larry Ellison dropped out of college twice.
  1. Hey 4 Eyes 
  • People who wear glasses read a lot and must be smart.
  • The 4.7-billion-dollar Hubble Telescope wears glasses. 
  • I can see behind me with the reflections. 
  • My eyesight is 6/6. 
  • I’m not vain and proud of it. 
  1. You’re Ugly
  • Ugly people have personalities.
  • Ugly people are more successful.
  • Ugly people age better.
  • Ugly people are not afraid of being honest.
  • Ugly people are less gullible.
  • People are more comfortable around you.
  1. You’re Fat. 
  • I have perfected my taste abilities.
  • This drug does not affect my appetite.
  • I’m immune to cold weather. 
  • My energy storage is more significant than yours.
  • Fat people don’t have rheumatoid arthritis.

Every time you have that negative thought, remember the scripted answers.  Do not say it out loud. It is meant to be directed at your internal negative thoughts. 

E. Develop a Thicker Skin.

This is one of those things that is always easier said than done.  It is up there with “Try and Be Smarter.”   There are many training methods and videos on “How to Develop a Thick Skin.”  You will find hundreds of hints, techniques, and suggestions, including YouTube™ videos.  Pick the ones that intrigue you.  This is similar to “stop worrying about what other people think,” as discussed above. 

F. Do not Calm Down.

Studies have shown that those speakers who intentionally tried to calm down ended up coming across as low-energy and not excited about their topics.  Never take suppressing type drugs or alcohol before a speech.  A public speaker trying to implement mediation techniques during a speech is not the impression you want to make.  

G. Fear of Public Speaking and Ridicule.

Ridicule is to make fun of someone or negatively mock someone. This sometimes happens during younger school years. If it happened to you, purging those memories from your head will be difficult. 

Fortunately, ridicule rarely happens during adult years, except on Social Media.   And that exception is significant.

Click on the Read More link to find techniques for handling ridicule.

There is a technique that every comedian uses to squelch hecklers.  It is training that they all must learn to keep control over the audience.  You rarely get hecklers in your speeches.  However, one heckler will always be with you – yourself and those negative thoughts.  The training can help with those in-your-head hecklers. 

YouTube™ has many training videos on the subject.  Most of them, like most comedians, use foul language.  However, one video by Comedy Teacher Gerry Katzman is instructive.  It does not use foul language and gives you a flavor of how to handle hecklers.  The put-down comments taught in those videos are to be said out loud, but only in the privacy of your own home.   Saying the words out loud with great volume and feeling cements those responses in your memory cells.  It takes at least a dozen times on different days before it takes hold.  When coupled with a reward, it increases the chances of being retained.  

These heckler put-down techniques should not be said out loud or practiced publicly.  They are only used to quiet your negative thoughts.  You are not a comedian and employing those techniques without extensive practice is not recommended.  You could practice at an open mic night at a local comedy club. However, if you are brave enough, you probably don’t have a public speaking problem.  

H. Fear of Public Speaking and Reduced Self-Esteem.

 Self-Esteem is confidence in your abilities and self-worth.  This is the elephant in the room for all social anxiety disorders.  True self-esteem does not come overnight.  It must be developed over many years.  Only you know if you have high or low self-esteem.  The most intelligent person in the world may have low self-esteem and consider themselves dumb.  Conversely, a person with a low IQ may have high self-esteem, believing they are the best. 

Self-esteem is a value that comes from within. It is what you think about yourself, not what other people think about you.  Because it takes years to develop, everyone fiercely protects it and avoids doing things that deflate it. 

Unfortunately, the mind automatically creates negative thoughts whenever fear pops up.  And fear causes more negative thoughts.  It is a vicious circle.

Positive thoughts are created whenever joy is involved.  Joy replenishes self-esteem and happiness.  This is why joy is so essential in coping with fear. 

Both self-esteem and negative thoughts are internal values.  Therefore, negative thoughts will always deflate self-esteem.  Dr. Daniel Amen, a world-famous psychiatrist, has lectured and written books on ANTs, i.e., Automatic Negative Thoughts.  He teaches you how to identify ANTs and how to distinguish them from actual circumstances that warrant caution.  This knowledge is so essential that it should be a standard topic taught in all elementary, middle, and high schools. 

Reading and watching videos on conquering ANTs is probably the most significant thing you can do to reduce stress in your life. 

I. Fear of Public Speaking and Fear of Failure Connection.

This is one of the easiest negative thoughts that you can conquer.

All it takes is preparation.  The more you know about the subject, the less negative thoughts you will have about making a mistake.  If you do not have time to prepare, such as a politician at a press conference, or a door-to-door salesperson, you must learn the skill of impromptu speaking.  This is exceedingly difficult but, once mastered, is an enormous stress reducer in public speaking. 

Impromptu Speech Training.   Many courses teach how to master impromptu speaking.  An internet search will lead you to how, where, and what to do to learn this valuable tool.  YouTube™ has many training videos on this technique.  A sample video is by Sean Michael.

J. Handling the Unexpected Things That Come Up.

Knowing how to handle the unexpected will reduce your anxiety.  It is human nature to fear more of what we don’t know than what we do know. 

On March 4, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt left us with a very poignant and oft-quoted gem of wisdom —“The only thing we have to fear is…fear itself.” 

The Read More link discusses how to handle seven unexpected things.  It is lengthy but worth the read.

The following are scenarios that illustrate how to handle unexpected occurrences during a public speech:

1. Someone Laughs. If someone laughs during your talk, do not immediately think they are laughing at you.  That would be a false, negative thought.  It could be that you said something funny.  For example:

An 8-year-old Mormon boy was giving a talk to church members about the angel Moroni.  But he said, “angel Macaroni.”  Everyone laughed, and the boy was embarrassed.  However, they truly loved that boy. What they were laughing at was a mental picture of a giant macaroni with angel wings, not at the boy. 

Smile as if you agree with the humor, or ignore it and proceed.

2. Someone Walks Out. There are many reasons why people leave a presentation.  Most reasons have nothing to do with you or your presentation.  Here are some potential causes.

  • They have something pressing going on in their life that needs to be immediately addressed.
  • They may be present because of a requirement. Being there against their wishes is the number one reason for people to leave early.  If they were sitting in a seat near an exit, it’s a clue that they had intended on leaving early.  If they get up and go, smile.  You know exactly why they left.
  • Did they just receive a cell phone call?  Most people who accept a call during a meeting only accept important calls.  They may be leaving so as not to interrupt your presentation.
  • Is your topic controversial?  Caution – if you are a beginning public speaker and take on a controversial topic, you are far braver than most experienced speakers.  It would be safer to pass on such speeches until you’re comfortable with public speaking. 

3. Controversial Topic. If you give a speech on a controversial subject, you must prepare for all kinds of adverse reactions, including “the walkout.”  Instead of fretting over their departure, you should smile. Those kinds of people can make your presentation difficult, and the most significant thing to help you is to have the agitators leave.  This is true even if it is 50% of your audience.  The best thing to do is to ignore it.  Please do not ask them to come back, and do not make a sarcastic comment.  The worst thing that could happen is to have those people return.

4. Someone Asks for the Mic.  If someone comes up to the podium and asks for the microphone, never-ever-ever relinquish control.  You have no idea what insulting or derogatory nonsense they may spew from their mouths. 

5.  Someone Jeers or Boos. This sometimes occurs during a controversial speech at high schools and colleges.  A group of agitators may choose to drown you out with boos.  The best way to handle this is to discuss security measures with the people hosting the speech.  If the agitators are rowdy and too many for the security to handle, you must have an exit strategy.  One experienced comedian had the following method for dealing with a large group of obnoxious people.

He took out his key chain containing 5 to 10 keys and jingled the keys at the hecklers, looking them in the eyes with a hypnotic stare.  Calmly and slowly, he would jingle keys at each of the hecklers.  When the audience began to wonder what was going on, he slowly said, “Shiny,    Shiny    Shiny,” with a strong accent on the “y” (nēē) as if hypnotizing a pack of wolves.  This would usually bring down the house with laughter.  Each time the obnoxious ones interrupted the comedian, he would grab his keys and jingle them with a smile without saying anything.  About the third or fourth time, members of the audience began holding their keys, exhibiting the jingle dance. 

Be careful! This may require the security team to come in to protect the agitators. 

6. Someone Falls Asleep. There are many reasons for people to fall asleep during a presentation.  Some have worked long hours and are tired.  Some have just finished lunch.  This is why you should do everything possible to speak in the morning.  If it has to be afternoon, it should be after 2 p.m.  A golden rule is to avoid giving speeches in a warm room after lunch. 

7. Other Issues. Another problem has to do with the topic.  Some topics will put nearly anyone to sleep.  Take, for example, “The Asymptotic Relationship Between Converging Variables.”  

Topics like that also point to another problem – do not use words that less than 90% of your audience understands. And stay away from repeated use of military acronyms.  If the listeners do not understand the terms, they will tune you out.  Once they tune you out, it is almost impossible to get them back.

8. Do not read your speech.  It indicates that you are not prepared.  But worse yet, it increases your talking speed.  Speakers should use between 1.5 and 2.5 words per second maximum.  Get your cell phone out and talk at the rate of 1 word per second.  You will find that this is – v   e   r   y – slow.  Next, try two words per second.  This is just right.  Now try three words per second.  This is way too fast.  The 1.5 to 2 words-per-second tempo is what most news broadcasters use.

 Finally, do not become monotone.  That is like placing a sleeping spell over the audience.

All speeches should be less than 20 minutes in length.  Ted™ Talks have a limit of 18 minutes for a reason. 

Tell a story with your words or use real-life examples or analogies.  This isn’t easy to do and can take hours to come up with each example or analogy. 

Do not present any more than three main points. Two is better.  Listeners will tune you out if they have to keep track of multiple points. 

If you can tell a joke, sprinkle a little humor into the talk.  Humor is a great ice breaker. But it is more than just words.  It needs proper timing, rhythm, and facial expressions.  A poor joke is worse than no joke.  Practice all jokes with a friend or spouse and demand honest answers.  Don’t do it if it doesn’t come across as great.  It takes an incredible amount of work and practice to be a comedian. 

9. Someone Is on Their Cell Phone. People on cell phones create chaos.  It is a numbers game.   If you see a dozen or more people talking or texting on their cell phones, try this trick:

Have an audience member call you after you have flashed a secret signal.  Have your ringer set to its highest volume.  Then raise your finger to the audience and answer the cell phone.  Begin talking on the phone in a loud voice, walk back and forth behind the microphone, and chuckle once in a while.   Then after about 10 seconds, hang up, re-approach the microphone and look at the audience.  Then say, “How many of you found my telephone call annoying?”  When the audience agrees, you then reply, “Me too.”  

Please do not point out or embarrass those using their cell phone.  They know who they are and know that you were talking to them. 

K. Logistics.

These are things that the organizers at every venue should handle. It can be a simple form of what to do when the power goes out or if there is a fire.  Contact telephone numbers are needed in case of a medical or another emergency.  The availability of restrooms, drinking water, and food facilities is required if the presentation is long.  These logistics are not something that usually involves the speaker.  But, if any of this information concerns you, ask the organizer for details.

L. Audience Size.

It is important for small audiences to look at as many participants during the presentation as possible.   You need to have eye contact with each individual for several sentences so that they know you are talking to them.

In large audiences, the procedure is entirely different.  Take a look at the photo above.  If you feel nervous, you are normal.  Before you take the microphone, look at the audience and pick out two people that look like your best friend, grandparents, or someone you know, trust, and love.  One person should be to your right and the other to your left.  Blur out everyone else so that you are talking to your best friend.

Click on the Read More link to learn how to blur people out during a speech.

Can you trick your mind into blurring people out?  We do it all the time.  People talk during a music concert by blocking out the music.  People who move into a home near railroad tracks hear the train noises, including the blasting of the horns at each crossing.  But after a couple of weeks, the train sounds completely fade away.  Pilots see tiny dark blips of other airplanes off in the distance while the rests of us see only clear blue skies.  It is a mild form of artificial synesthesia.  

Unfortunately, being able to blur out the audience does not come overnight.  It takes weeks of practice, not days.  But, like skiing, once you do it, it stays with you. And, just like skiing, practice and more practice is the key.  When you are in a park, find a bench to sit on.  Look around, focus on two trees, and try to blur out everything else.   In a restaurant, focus on two objects and intentionally blur out the people.  The crème de la crème of practice is public speaking.  First, try watching videos of speakers addressing large audiences.  Focus on one person and blur out all others. 

You will find that it may be easier than you thought because your mind is blocking things out subconsciously all the time.  The reason it takes a lot of practice is that when you are in front of a large audience, the hostile thoughts department, keeps sending you the following signal:

It would help if you looked at everyone to find those who do not like you. 

That is why you need to practice.  Many public speaking seminars and courses, such as a Dale Carnegie™ Course and Toastmasters™.

M. Social Media Effect.

Social Media has been the most devastating blow against self-esteem by providing an endless stream of critics and out-and-out false allegations.  There may be many positive statements on social media as well.   But it is not a contest.   If you hear a singer make a mistake with a single discordant note in the wrong key, your memory of that singer will be of that one single note as opposed to the thousands of good notes in the song.   The person attacked by a critic will automatically go to the worst of the comments, overlooking the hundreds of positive statements. 

Many say that social media is an addictive trap.  The Addiction Center reported that children are an At-Risk Group concluding that 27% spend more than 3 hours per day on these sites.   Gallup™ said that the fear of public speaking went down from 45% in 1998 to 40% in 2001. 

The social media platforms began in 2004 and did not become widespread until 2010.  In 2017 the National Social Anxiety Center reported that 73% of the population struggles with public speaking. 

Social media may have played a role in this dramatic increase (40% to 73%).   Because different polling companies use other methods, it would be a better comparison if Gallup™ updated their survey.

N. Personality Trait Connection.

The personality types most likely to fear public speaking are D-Types, followed by C-types. 

Here is a list of some famous people who are afraid of public speaking: Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean), Tiger Woods, Richard Branson, Prince Harry, Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, Warren Buffett, Joel Osteen, Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jay Z, Jackie Chan, Mark Zuckerberg, Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, Beyoncé, Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, Samuel Jackson, Harrison Ford, Jennifer Lawrence, Rihanna, Emma Watson, Renee Zellweger, Sigmund Freud, Sir Laurence Olivier, and the list is extensive.